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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

X-amining Uncanny X-Men '95

"Growing Pains"
1995

In a Nutshell
Cannonball & Husk infiltrate an anti-mutant cult to rescue their sister.

Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Bob McLeod
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Cannonball arrives at the Massachusetts Academy to pick up his sister Husk. Accompanied by Storm, Bishop, and Wolverine, they return to their family home in the wake of their sister Joelle falling in with a militant anti-mutant cult called Humanity's Last Stand, thanks in large part to her boyfriend, a man known as Preacher, who paints the strange visions he experiences. Hoping to blend in, Cannonball & Husk infiltrate the group's compound, leaving the other X-Men behind. They find their sister, and Husk continues to explore the complex while Cannonball tries to talk some sense into their sister. However, the two mutants catch the attention of the group's shadowy leader, and Cannonball is attacked by armored agents of the group. Meanwhile, Husk gets deeper into the complex, and overhears a conversation with the group's leader. She is found out, however, and badly beaten. Meanwhile, Cannonball manages to escape and comes crashing into his mother's home, where he entreats the rest of the X-Men to help him rescue his sisters. He leads them back to the complex, and while Cannonball rescues Husk, Bishops finds Joelle and Preacher while Storm & Wolverine battle the group's armored operatives. During the fight, Wolverine realizes they're actually Nimrod Sentinels, and Preacher disappears. Ultimately, Bishop is able to turn the energy of the Nimrods against them, but the X-Men are forced to leave when the local authorities are called, though they leave with both Husk & Joelle, and Cannonball is pleased to have at least exposed the truth of the place, which he believes will change the minds of some of the group's members. Joelle just hopes the still-missing Preacher will remember her. Preacher, meanwhile, is painting a canvas of Joelle.

Firsts and Other Notables
The shadowy figure seen leading Humanity's Last Stand with the name Trask is Simon Trask, brother of original Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (and uncle to secret mutant Larry Trask), making his first appearance (though he's never fully shown here). A minor member of the extended Trask/"anti-mutant bigots who build off each other's work in creating killer robots" family, Simon Trask will make a few scattered appearances in the 90s (including an issue of the Magneto/Joseph limited series and a Punisher story, of all things) and get dusted off during the "Dark Reign"/Utopia era in the late 00s.


Like Trask, the organization/cult he's leading, Humanity’s Last Stand, appear here for the first time, and it too will pop up in a few places over the next couple years, usually alongside Trask, as well as in next year's annual. It is a different anti-mutant organization than the similarly-named Friends of Humanity, which is led by Graydon Creed. You'll be forgiven if you mix up your "ironically using the term 'friend' because they're actually morally evil" mid-90s anti-mutant hate groups.


Their use of Nimrods in this issue seems overblown (as they don't put up the kind of fight one would expect) and have been largely ignored by the larger Nimrod narrative.

As with the other '95 annuals, this is a double-sized issue with a wraparound cover. It's last few pages are dedicated to a series of X-Men "timelines", showcasing a specific character (featuring original character art by Gary Frank) and illustrating notable events in their history with a little text blurb and art sourced from the relevant issue. As backmatter in annuals go, they're pretty neat, and I wish more of them had appeared elsewhere in a similar fashion.


The Chronology Corner 
This issue takes place after Uncanny X-Men #326 and Wolverine #96, before X-Force #48, and between Generation X #9 and Generation X '95.

A Work in Progress
Cannonball hasn’t entirely let go of his animosity towards the White Queen, a nice acknowledgement of their history and her role as the headmaster of his teenage rivals (whom he also blames for the deaths of most of the same rivals).


Preacher has seen visions of the Age of Apocalypse, and presents it as a worse case scenario for humanity.


Joelle Guthrie has seemingly extended her resentment to Sam & Paige for getting out/leaving the family behind to all mutants.


Paige’s accent comes back when she gets scared.


Preacher can somehow tell that Bishop has seen the Age of Apocalypse too.


Human/Mutant Relations
When Cannonball is exposed as a mutant at the Humanity's Last Stand complex, a mob forms and quickly attacks him.


Austin's Analysis
There are some seeds of a good story here. Tensions within the Guthrie family, between the ones who "got out" and the kids left behind to help take care of the family, are always a source for good character-based drama and an effective use of the mutant metaphor (where being a mutant/superhero is a stand-in for going off to college, say). The conflict between the more cosmopolitan (and racially-diverse) X-Men and the locals, an idea mentioned in passing via dialogue, has some potential (if handled carefully). The idea of a human from a family of mutants falling in with a mutant-hating cult has some legs. An exploration of the Trask legacy, certainly. Someone from outside the immediate world of the the X-Men learning about the Age of Apocalypse could be a neat way to reference that story in a unique way.

Unfortunately, Terry Kavanagh probably isn't the best writer to try and tackle all (or any of) those ideas, nor is a single issue (even an extra-large one like this) enough space to really do any of those plots, let all alone all of them at once, justice. The end result is an issue that just sort of skims along on the surface of (multiple) deeper stories, committing to none and therefore never really managing to be about anything. Thankfully, this issue gains some heft from the art by Bryan Hitch which is quite nice (even from a young Hitch), so it's not quite a complete waste (and is probably the best of the '95 annuals thus far, though that's damning with faint praise), but it's still hard to receive this issue with little more than a shrug, and a wonder of "what if?" regarding the various story ideas it raises, but never really addresses.

Next Issue
Next week, Unstacking the Deck takes a look at the fourth series of Marvel Masterpieces.

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10 comments:

  1. Is it mean of me to think, "Gee, even huge, big-name artists like Bryan Hitch had to get their starts drawing dumb stories for awful writers like Terry Kavanagh"...?

    Also, I know Jeff Matsuda went on to grow and have a pretty nice career himself, but I find it kind of funny that Bryan Hitch's story is wrapped up in a cover by Matsuda here.

    Anyway -- this one didn't even impress me as a teen, and this was right around the time I was swallowing up everything the X-office had to offer. I had already learned to automatically recoil a bit at anything Terry Kavanagh wrote, thanks to his work on WEB OF SPIDER-MAN a few years earlier.

    And Bryan Hitch's artwork just did not appeal to me at all back then -- so that's changed, at least. I'm still not a fan of Kavanagh, but I really like Hitch's art here (though I still think his characters look too "wide", which was one of my bigger beefs with him in the 90s).

    I also disliked this issue for what I perceived as a loose end never followed up -- namely the appearance by the shadowy "Trask". Imagine my surprise to learn, just today as I read your review, that this character had a few more appearances in the 90s! I guess just not in anything I ever read.

    I do like the bits between Cannonball and Emma, though. Much as I dislike Kavanagh's ideas, I do find that he has a good head for remembering continuity. Though I often question his use of it, here it's fine.

    Honestly, I think my biggest disappointment in this one, re-reading it now, is that I know Bishop and Preacher never meet again. That seems like a good seed for... something to help progress and resolve Bishop's Age of Apocalypse memories. Of all the bits I know in retrospect will never amount to anything from this era, it's the Bishop/AoA stuff that bugs me the most.

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    1. Imagine my surprise to learn, just today as I read your review, that this character had a few more appearances in the 90s! I guess just not in anything I ever read.

      I also thought he was largely a one-in-done character prior to writing this review; I may very well check out that PUNISHER arc (it also features the X-Cutioner!) with an eye on including it here, just for the sheer WTF-ness of "here's a Punisher story in which one of the Sentinel-creating Trasks is the villain".

      I do find that he has a good head for remembering continuity. Though I often question his use of it, here it's fine.

      Heh. That's a pretty good summation of Kavanagh, who is a far better editor (in as much as we can tell that from our vantage point) than he ever was a writer. :)

      Of all the bits I know in retrospect will never amount to anything from this era, it's the Bishop/AoA stuff that bugs me the most

      It's definitely up there for me too. The notion that Bishop has all these memories of this entire other universe rattling around in his head seems like fantastic story fodder, but aside from this minor bit and it coming up in that two part Adjectiveless story (the one with Fatale), it really never gets tapped.

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    2. That was the "ponytail Punisher" series, right? I think John Ostrander wrote it, and we've seen him dabble in the X-Universe now and then (plus he's on the upcoming X-MEN VS. BROOD mini-series), so I guess it makes some amount of sense that he might experiment with pulling a little X-mythology into Punisher's world.

      Truth be told, I've never been a fan of the Punisher as a protagonist or as the headliner of his own series (I didn't even watch the NetFlix show because of that), but I've always thought this particular series sounded like something I might like, at least around "Onslaught". I seem to recall solicits from the time talking about Punisher and G.W. Bridge teaming up against the X-Cutioner aboard the helicarrier while all of Onslaught's Sentinels were tearing up New York. It sounds like a very un-Punisher story, but it also sounds like a summer popcorn blockbuster, which feels like an interesting direction to go with the character.

      It just occurred to me, on the heels of the discussion here a week or so back about Bishop going bad after "Messiah Complex", that if they'd dredged up his AoA memories as the catalyst for it, I might not have hated it as much. Like, maybe something he remembers from AoA drives him mad and sends him off on this quest to kill Hope. I still wouldn't have liked it, but it would have built somewhat logically on an established element of his character which had been fumbled by prior teams, so I might have at least been more accepting of it.

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    3. Yeah, that's during the Onslaught-era "Punisher: Agent of SHIELD" era, after he "killed" Nick Fury. Ostrander's involvement also explains the use of X-Cutioner, since I'm pretty sure Ostrander also uses him in a few upcoming X-MAN issues as well.

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  2. "Honestly, I think my biggest disappointment in this one, re-reading it now, is that I know Bishop and Preacher never meet again"

    I think they meet again after Onslaught, in some Unlimited ou Annual. It has Shard too. But I might be wrong.

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    1. UNCANNY X-MEN ‘96:
      http://notblogx.blogspot.com/2010/01/uncanny-x-men-96-september-1996.html

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    3. Wow, just a year later! And co-written by Kavanagh, no less. I know I have that issue, but I doubt I've read it more than once in my life, and I remember nothing about it. I guess I'll check it out again when X-aminations reaches that point.

      (Funny, I even commented on that post when G.K. first published it {ulp} ten years ago...! Ahh, to be in my thirties again.)

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  3. Does anyone know how many Trasks there are? Are there any that aren't in the Sentinel business? I remember a new one created for Morrison's first arc who was a dentist or something (of course, Cassandra Nova suckered him into activating a Master Mold so it still sort of counts). I'd love to see a trask who supports mutants and runs a sporting goods store.

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    1. There's Bolivar (who started it all) and Simon (who debuts here). Bolivar had two kids, Larry & Tanya, both of whom were mutants. Larry followed in his dad's footsteps and launched the Sentinels against the X-Men in the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run towards the end of the Silver Age.

      Tanya is a 90s era creation who gets roped into the Askani and the business involving Cable's future (she has time travel powers).

      Donald Trask is the hapless dentist largely disconnected from the family mutant-hating business who gets duped by Cassandra Nova into setting the Sentinels on Genosha at the start of Morrison's run. He is Bolivar's nephew, though it's not clear if he's therefore Simon's son or the child of some other unmentioned Trask sibling.

      Finally, Oliva Trask appeared in X-MEN GOLD and was said to be Bolivar's granddaughter, though again, it's not clear if she's the child of Larry, Tanya, or some other second gen Trask.

      That's it AFAIK, at least in terms of the main 616 universe; there are of course dozens more Trasks sprinkled across alternate realities and in other media.

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